Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Mountain/Hill List 2010

For book-keeping's sake, for something to look back on, and to make myself feel better about a year that involved three months of reduced activity due to injury, I am posting a list of the mountains (and hills that are called mountains) that I have peaked in 2010, and how many times I have done them. The heights are approximate, and I always started at between 50 and 450 metres (although generally at around 50-100).

West of Brisbane
Cootha (250m) - about 100 (65 in the last four months, and I didn't record or get out as much the rest of the year).
Nebo (600m) - x 2.
Glorious (700m) x 1 (starting from the saddle between Mount Nebo and her).

The Glassies
Tibrogargan (350m) - x 4 (plus a bonus half, where I started from the beginning of the real climb).
Beerwah (550m) - x 2.
Tunbubudla East (350m) - x 2.
Tunbubudla west (300m) - x 1.
Beerburrum (280m) - x 2.
Miketeebumulgrai (220m) - x 1.
Elimbah (130m) - x1.
Coochin Hills (280m & 250m) - x1.
Ngungun (250m) - x1.
Tiberoowuccum (220m) - x1.

South of Brisbane
Barney East and West peaks (1350m, 1300) - x1 (up the East first, dropped into the saddle then climbed the 300m of vert up the west).
Warning (1200m) - x1.

South Australia
Ohlssen Bagge (950m) - x2.
St. Mary's Peak (1150m) - x1.

One Tree Hill (500m) - x1. (In the Dandenongs, Victoria, via the 1000 steps).

Fat's Festive Fatass

Yesterday, a fairly big (by ultra standards) group of people went for a somewhat-social jaunt up Mount Nebo. I say somewhat social because I, like many others, will try to compete in any context.
Nic started off the first climb at the front, with a large group running behind, but gradually Steve, who I met that morning, and I reeled him in. The three of us ran/walked in front and together up and down the hills, before we made our way onto the slightly downhill singletrack near the top. We blasted through the mud at a ridiculously quick pace (set by Nick), getting plenty wet and dirty, before taking a wrong turn and running the road to the Cafe on top. My quads/hamstring insertions were really sore, and I debated taking a ride to the bottom, but only for a split second. After slurping down some powerade and eating a muesli bar, I rejoined Nic on the trail, with Steve not too far behind. We passed the rest of the runners, who were coming in the opposite direction, and had spread out to a certain extent.
Steve soon caught up, and I let him run in the middle, as I had to let off some serious gas. When we returned to the fire-trails, I was really pleased that the other fellas slowed to a walk on the few instances that I had to retie my shoelaces.
We stayed together, chatting about running, travelling and culture, among other things; while blasting some 4:35s on downhill sections and walking the steep ups. Nic's stomach was starting to hassle him, however, and with about 8kms to go, he gradually slowed until it was just Steve and I running together.
Steve seemed alot stronger on the uphills, while I had more speed on the downs. I kept cajoling him to reduce the pace, but just ended up running as quick as him; we were both hurting pretty badly, but he seemed to be in slightly better shape. This was confirmed when we hit the final 500 metre section of tarmac, where we battled it out. I slowed to a jog in the last 200, seeing that Steve was much stronger, while he was running around 14km/h into the intersection that marked the start/finish. In the end, he put about 15 seconds on me, but I didn't really care - I was happy to have ran well and made a new friend. The final time was 4:48 for 47km with about 1200m of vertical; but the best part was that I negative-splitted the run. This is impressive for me - even though the return leg was mostly downhill - as I usually go out way too hard, and then crash on the way back. I didn't push myself too much at first, as it wasn't really a race, and this allowed me to finish strongly and give it a nudge at the end. This was augmented by the fact that I ate plenty of muesli bars, and had adequate sports drink over the morning. Additionally, despite having run way quicker than I do in training in this event, I am not very sore today at all, although it could have been a different story if I decided to go for a run. Instead, I played plenty of backyard cricket, sprinting around the tennis court with alot of pep in my step.
This Fatass run has given me confidence for Hares and Houds; I will be able to start at my own pace and still finish strong. It also makes me more enthusiastic about the prospect; if I race it properly, I wont have to spend a week on the couch like after K2D. Let's hope that the niggles abate before then!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Kurrawa to Duranbah

Here i my belated race report from K2D, earlier in December.

We were up at 0315 to drive down to the Gold Coast for this one, and I must've slept for only four hours. However, as we lined up at the start, I realised that the 60km run/walk up Mount Glorious on the back of a completely sleepless night had adequately prepared me for this. Nic wished me a good race, and we were off.
I started at a ridiculous pace, running through the streets of Broadbeach with the chase-pack; a mixture of upper-end 25km runners, and some of the fastest 50kers.

I felt suprisingly good, despite the pace, until my calves started to cramp around 15kms. My fears of going too fast were reinforced when I talked to Tressa Lindenberg, who had recently finished eigth at the 50km World Championships in Dublin. Nevertheles, I managed to stay near to her through Burleigh Heads and over the bridge, until I had to take an ill-timed dump in the bushes. This robbed me of a couple of minutes, and by the time that I had returned to the course, I was no longer running with the hot-shots, but was still around tenth place. I pushed hard to the turnaround, encouraging a 25km relay runner who was just behind me. He pulled ahead on the final hill (that I would see again on the way back), while I slowed to a walk, overtaking the guy in the blue shirt who had been running in front of me since the pit-stop. I hit the turnaround in 1:55:28, realising that I had nearly PB'd 10km, and had definitely PB'd the half-marathon and 25km. I would certainly fade later on, I thought, but I believed that a sub-4:30 time was assured.
Sure enough, I was passed by a few people on the way back, including Nic at 35km, who had seemed dead at 30km.
I had made the mistake of bringing gel-lollies to keep my energy up, without having tried them first. They were pretty chewy and very hard to keep down; I hacked up small amounts regularly. I had also forgotten to bring salt, which was the cause of the cramping which I had not experienced in the past.
From 35km onwards, I ran with Trevor, who also seemed to be in a world of hurt. At first, I would pull away from him when running, but when I walked for a bit, he would catch up. However, after the 40km point, he appeared to have been given a new lease of life, and was definitely the stronger runner out of the two of us. With about 6km to go, my mind was fried from the cramps, and I had to let him go. It was a shame; we had worked really well together.
I then proceeded to walk more frequently, and then from 46km to 49km I did no running. My chance of finishing under 4:30 was shattered, but it was really my own fault. I couldn't find the strength when I needed it, and really psyched myself out, using the cycling trip the week before as an excuse.
With 500 metres to go, I was nearly caught by another runner. I thought of conceeding my place to him, but decided to pull what is becoming my signature move; I ran really hard for 300 metres to demoralise him, an then cruised to the finish for a final time just under 4:37.
My race had been good, despite the fact that I had made a host of elementary errors (food choice, no salt, going out too hard). I was incredibly grateful to all of the volunteers working the aid-stations, to Trevor for helping to drive me onwards, and to Nic, who had given me a lift up and back and plenty of valuable advice.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The couch and the Desert

So, I didn't achieve my goal at Kurrawa to Duranbah 50km; 4:37 was my final time. The fact that I hit the halfway point in 1:53 immediately highlights one of my mistakes. Anyways, I will post a longer report in the coming days.
On Sunday night, I flew out to Adelaide, and spent the next five days sitting on the couch, eating, reading, but above all, watching Spanish arthouse cinema. I was pretty disgusted with myself, but I'm sure that I needed the rest.
Then, on Saturday morning, Dad and I loaded the car up and drove for about five hours up to Wilpena Pound, an incredible natural amphitheatre in the Flinder's Ranges. We were incredibly well equipped, making camping at the massive commercial ground on the edge of the pound pretty luxurious.
I convinced my Dad to climb Mt Ohlssen Bagge on the first day (941m), which was a climb/descent over 6.5km with about 400m of up and the same of down. He groaned and puffed his was up, but got there in the end, and was "deeply satisfied" after we had returned to camp and had our dinner of polenta, broccoli and eggs.
On the second day, we set out to climb the highest peak in the Flinder's, St. Mary's, which stood at about 1150m above sea level. The climb itself involved only about 600m of vertical though, over 21km, but all of it was concentrated in about 4km, making it steep and rocky. We were pretty afraid of being blown off a narrow ridge at one point, with the winds blasting at our sides, towards a not so insignificant cliff. Dad was pretty good here, although he needed plenty of breaks, he maintained a solid pace while we were walking, and I didn't hear a word of complaint. What an ironic reversal it was though, from the days when I was struggling behind him on the bike and on foot, trying my best to keep up.
In the end, it took eight hours, and I was pretty exhausted, probably due to the heavy pack to which I was unaccustomed (I was dad's mule) and residual fatigue. I kept trying to talk dad into a flat walk the next day, but he was sceptical of how his body would feel. To my surprise, when Dad woke, he said he was up for another climb of Ohlssen Bagge. I was a bit unenthusiastic, as my hip had started to play up again, but was happy to go along for his sake. We went slowly, but I was still tired by the time we came down, and rueing my apparent lack of strength/condition.
The week on the couch had fried my brain, so I really needed the weekend in the bush to get me back to reality. I really enjoyed both parts of the week, and will be continuing a hiatus from running probably until the Fats Festive Fatass up to Mount Nebo on the 28th, which I will run provided that my body is ok. Then, my body permitting, I will be running the Hares and Hounds 55km on the 9th of January, before starting a long and slow prep for Cooks Tour 50 mile in May. That's the plan atleast.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Ultimate Birthday Gift

Day 1 - Early worries
On November 29, at 5:49am, I coasted out of the driveway and onto the road. It had begun, but I was not as serene as I had been at past races. I was worried; as I made my was along the Mount Lindesay Highway towards Beaudesert, my quad was giving me a large amount of grief. Additionally, in general, I felt like trash. After two hours in the saddle, I pulled up at a bus stop and sat down to eat. Then and there, I contemplated dropping out: this trip could ruin my body, and make me unable to race the week after. Then I reminded myself that I had stayed out late the night before, and I was just warming up: from then on, I had very few thoughts of quitting the trip.
Just past Beaudesert, I saw her in the distance. The peaks of Mount Barney were towering silhouettes in the background, but Mount Lindesay to their west was the most interesting - it was shaped like a wedding cake that was leaning to one side. I marvelled at the sight, humbled by their size. The sun was out and the road was flat, allowing me to build some speed as I cruised between hills and arid cow paddocks; the livestock looked gaunt and frail, and hopped away when I approached. After stopping in Rathdowney, I turned onto the bumpy road to the base of Mount Barney, my legs being peppered by the small climb. I had intended to camp in the bush, but when I found a commercial site for $12 per night with showers, taps and a safe place to put my bike, I decided to take the safer/more comfortable option. I ended up having to walk up a 3km stretch of dirt road three times, first to find the camp, then to retrieve my bike from where I had first locked it.
With my tent set up at about 3pm, I sat on the grass looking straight at that beautiful mountain and reflected on the day. The solitude of the place gave me time to think, and I was able to make myself aware of all of the thoughts floating around in my head. One that was really bugging me was about my tick-bite from the week before. I had not cleaned it properly, and there was a rash around it, so I was very afraid that I was going to get blood poisoning. I figured, from past experience, that if it turned septic, I had about six hours to get to antibiotics before something bad would happen. Thinking about it now, I probably would have had closer to ten hours. I went to sleep with this heavy on my mind, but managed to get in a long slumber, if my afternoon nap was counted.

Day 2 - The Risk
I set of walking towards the mountain with rampant feelings of anxiety coming from my gut. Sure, there were a few potentially dangerous elements on the cards today, but they didn't seem to be causing it. I was just anxious for no reason; an annoying condition that I thought would have been eliminated by the peacefulness and solitude of the surroundings. I had intended to take the Southern (Peasants') Ridge up the mountain - definitely the easiest route, but I found the South-East ridge first, and wishing to start upwards as soon as possible while being afraid of overshooting Peasants' (which is mildly impossible), I decided to take it.
At this time, it was raining on and off, and the wind was howling in a similar fashion. I questioned the safety of rock-scrambling under such conditions, but knew that this would be a rare chance to climb a large peak. My route-finding skills were supremely tested, as I tried to find ways around exposed rock faces that became ever more frequent as I climbed. At one point, I found myself on the ridge about five metres wide with a 30 metre drop on either side, climbing up the rock. My fear of heights reared its ugly head, and I started to make contingency plans: if I got stuck or lost, the SES would not start a search until 36-48 hours later. I had told my mum that I was out of phone reception and would not be texting her that night, and I didn't tell anyone at the campsite where I had went. Bad move, if only for the fact that it increased my anxiety.
At one point, I found a tick in my leg, and got pretty livid with it (due to my ridiculous mental state), before calming myself and pulling it out.
After a long while, I reached the top of the East Peak, but I was not jubilant as there was very little view due to the clouds, and I still had to drop into the saddle before climbing 300m to the top of the West peak. As I headed down and found the campsite at the saddle, I had almost talked myself out of hitting the West. But I figured that I did not want to have that regret in my mind which would cause me to return there in the future (yes, I was not too keen on the Mountain at this point). This was my chance and I had to take it. So, I started up the west scaling steeper and steeper rock, through thicker and thicker bush. At one point, I went up a short pitch that I wondered how I would descend, and as I reached the summit, I realised the impossibility of relocating that same route to take down the mountain.
I was right: I had a false start on descending, having to return to the summit to get my bearings and on the second attempt, I nearly headed down the west-side of the mountain into thick forest. A compass would have come in handy.
I went down through rocks and scrub, until I came accross an impossibility. I was on a small dirt ledge, which hung over a sheer face with a drop of 7-10 metres. What I would have to do, is to climb about five metres accross to the other side of the cliff, which seemed more forgiving. I turned around and tried to approach the better part from above, but it too was at the base of a steep drop-off. So I stepped out, onto the cliff, exposing myself to the possible fall. After I had made it a couple of metres accross, I just thought "this is stupid, you're going to fall. There must be another way down”. I climbed up a bit, and eventually managed to find a way through. I had to bumslide down pitches of flat rock, and crash through thick scrub alternately. I got to the saddle, exhausted, but found the South Ridge down with few problems. At this point, the sun had come out, and as I hopped over the rocks of the route doen and walked the final sandy stretch, I realized that it had been worth it. I met an old-timer from Caboolture, and chatted to him about the Glass House Mountains, reproaching the unpreparedness of people who try and climb Mount Beerwah. Oh, the irony.
I got to the campsite, bought ice from its owner and sat down facing the mountain, cooling my knees. I had underestimated the dangers of the mountain, but I came away from her with a lot of route-finding, navigation, and rock-scrambling experience. I also realized that I should buy a compass.
That night, I chilled with a young couple who also went to UQ by their fire, telling stories and appreciating their company.

Day 3 – Gruel
The sky was grey when I left the campsite, early on the third morning. My problem quad was quite upset for the first two hours of cycling, as I tested it with a long climb on a low gradient to make my way into New South Wales. The countryside was a mix of lush, flat English pastures and Papua-New-Guinean-style jungle on the hill-sides; it was a pretty incredible contrast. I crossed the border, and after a rattling descent through the wet, I hit flat ground. I pedaled with a low cadence in a high gear, because I wanted to build some serious speed. Wrong option. When I hit the next set of rolling hills, my quads were out of juice, although the problem one had loosened up. I had to use a lot of mental power to get up and over them, before I pushed the final flat into Kyogle, on a stomach that felt empty. I regrouped with a few almond & hommus wraps on the curbside, before timidly exiting the town. From there, it was more rollers into Lismore. The rain was relentless and driving, but I warmed to it, and loved the idea that some motorists would pass me thinking that I was crazy. On the final flat stretch into this regional centre of Northern NSW, there was a brutal headwind that sapped me and reduced my speed to a pathetic level. I arrived in Lismore almost having talked myself into staying there for the night, but after a break and some encouragement from the woman working the information kiosk, I was ready to hit the final climb of the day. Riding up through the outskirts of the town, I started to feel good in the saddle, riding hard and noticing a certain smoothness in my cycling. I hit the plateau, passing through some beautiful old-timey towns, before dropping into Ballina. Eleven hours and 165km after starting that day, I arrived at a small motel on the outskirts of the beach town. I then had some fried rice and a giant omlette from a chinese restaurant and watched TV, actually feeling comfortable about my laziness for once. I had worked so hard on the bike that day that I believed I had deserved it: it was one of the first times that this had happened since I started training for ultras.

Day 4 – Keeping Going
I got out of bed without complaint. This had been the same for my first two mornings on the road: I had a purpose to fulfill, a simple yet difficult goal to achieve that I had to chip away at. I knew what I had to do to succeed. Maybe contentment is waking up without wishing to sleep in.
I downed ten weet-bix with soy milk and a detergent-grade coffee, and before I knew it I was out the door heading up the coast. I had some intense saddle-rash that really troubled me whenever I got off of the seat and back on, causing me to wonder whether I could really endure it. However, like all such things, my mind molded to it, and it abated. I arrived in Byron Bay after tackling a combination of flat land and rolling hills along coastal marshland, and there I went for a very short swim. Mistake. The saddle-rash was really irritated by the saltwater, and made the next few hours pretty excruciating. I travelled along the backroads, tackling small climbs and taking in the beautiful countryside. I can't say that I was in a deep reverie though, I was constantly checking the systems and thinking about foot. There was a 150m climb at one point, upon which I was graced by the presence of many other cyclists, which really zapped me, and I was almost destroyed as I made my way into Murwillumbah. Stopping to have a lunch of four veggie patties in flat bread, I thought about what still lay ahead on that day. I would have to get to Mount Warning (another 12km away) and then walk to the top and back down (which I had thought would take three hours) before hitting the sack. I calculated that the day would last twelve hours in total because of this, and felt intimidated by the sheer volume.
I followed the signs as I exited Murwillumbah through its Northern suburbs. Eventually, the ones directing me to Mount Warning dwindled, until I found myself on a country road with not a significant mountain to be seen. I checked the map; yep, I had made a wrong turn. Although I probably only lost 90 minutes in total, this event completely demoralized me, and although there would have been time, I decided not to climb Mount Warning on thiat day. I started to calm down as I reached the campsite at its base, but I was still a tiny bit despondent, as I realized I would have about 150km to cycle and plus a mountain the next day. As a result, I set my alarm for 3:30am, but after lying in the soggy tent in my gritty sleeping bag, wearing my only dry garment (a pair of shorts), I surveyed the condition of my body. I would probably wreck myself if I tried to do the whole walk and cycle, so I decided to catch the train to Brisbane from the Gold Coast. This would make tomorrow’s ride a 60km parade, so my alarm went to 4:30. In my fragile mental state, I also started to fear the leeches up on the mountain. There was no logical reason; they could not hurt me and I could get them off easily, but I was nonetheless pretty anxious.
Due to the incredible strain on my hormonal system of long days of exercise, I had quite a bit of trouble sleeping, and probably got in about four or five hours in total.
Day 5 – a New Gear
As a result, when I awoke, I was pretty unenthusiastic about exiting my sleeping bag. Nevertheless, within thirty minutes, I was strolling up the road to where to trail would begin. Due to the monotony of walking up steep tarmac, I was still completely unenthusiastic about the mountain or the ride, two things I would usually love.
The road became steeper and steeper, until the thin but well built trail took over, and I began to hop along the rocks, through intermittent rain. At some point, I felt a twinge in my right glute, which spelt trouble for me as the trail turned into a steep rock scramble. I went slowly, and nursed the leg, but the damage probably wasn’t as severe as I was treating it to be. I got to the top, and had a look towards the coast, which I could just make out through the clouds. Although I couldn't see much, what was visible was spectacular.
Descending was a lot easier physically, but the downhill pounding really played on my mind. I just really wanted it to be over by now, so for the last kilometre-and-a-bit down the trail, I started running. To my pleasant surprise, I did not hear a sound from my glute, which was surely a good sign. Walking down the road was even more trying, but I managed to get my mind off of it by focusing on the incredible Gondwana rainforest, and by singing at the top of my lungs.
Returning to the campsite, I packed up my gear surprisingly quickly, and was on my bike by 10am. The climb had taken five hours instead of three, but despite the fact that I did not really enjoy it (due to fatigue), it felt like it had gone much quicker.
I had decided to wear running shorts for the final cycle, and they seemed to do me a lot of good – the saddle-rash had all but disappeared as I made my way back through Murwillumbah and towards the Border Ranges. I had looked on the map the night before at the squiggly line across the mountains that marked the road. Although it was very near to a 700 metre mountain, I believed that the climb could not go nearly that high.
I made my way out of the valley, through field of sugar-cane and then started climbing. After 500 metres of uphill road, my legs were as good as toasted, and I said that I would soon get off and push my bike. I rounded corner after corner, telling myself that the climb would end at each one’s completion, but it really didn’t. I knew that I would not be able to cycle to the top, but as I got further and further up, I knew that I would not get off of the bike. I ground up and up, until I was moving at a walking pace, exhausted. I could not go on, but I refused to stop. That was the hardest that I have ever worked in my life, the most that I have ever pushed, without exception. And it payed off; as I climbed higher and higher, I became faster and faster – I had found a new gear. I was in pain, but I no longer suffered, and as I crossed the border and began the descent I raised my fist jubilantly. I now properly surveyed the scenery for the first time on the trip; I was surrounded by towering mountains covered in jungle, dispersed between the tranquil mist of the low clouds. It was beautiful and I was content.
I hit the flat going into Currumbin and pedaled like crazy; it was the fastest that I had travelled on the entire trip. I sprinted up the Gold Coast Highway, getting a massive boost from the traffic, despite the fact that the pollution that they emitted was searing my lungs. I made my way inland to Varsity Lakes Railway Station, careening through roundabouts, relishing the bike lane and the smooth road. Arriving there, I sat down and started to rip into a loaf of banana bread, not exhultant, but not depressed, maybe just a little more peaceful.

On Sunday, the second day after the adventure had finished, I went out for a two-hour easy ride to round of my weekly mileage of cycling. I reflected on the trip, and came to a realization; I love to suffer purely and needlessly. Those five days had helped me to remember this aspect of my personality, and to accept it.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The birthday adventure in numbers

I will write a report about these past five days when I get my head around everything that happened, but for now here are the numbers and a general rundown.

Day 1: 7hrs
cycling - Brisbane, Beaudesert, Rathdowney, Mount Barney. 120km, 547m ascent.

Day 2: 9hrs
Walking/scrambling - Mount Barney East & West; up SE ridge, to saddle, up West Peak, down Southern (Peasants') ridge. 20km, 1250m vertical (approximately).

Day 3: 11hrs
Cycling - Mount Barney, Summerland Way to Kyogle, cross-country to Lismore, Ballina. 165km, 923m ascent.

Day 4: 7hrs
Cycling - Ballina, Byron Bay, Mullumbimby, Tweed Valley Way to Murwillumbah, accidental 10-15km loop, Mount Warning Holiday Park. 115km, 570m ascent.

Day 5: 8hrs (5w/3c)
Walking/scrambling - From Holiday Park to top of Mount Warning. 18km, 1080 vertical (approximately).
Cycling - Murwillumbah, Road 98 over the range to Currumbin, Burleigh Heads, Robina, Varsity Lakes. 59km, 443m ascent.

Cycling - 28hrs, 459km, 2483m climbing.
Walking/scrambling - 14hrs, 38km, 2330m ascent/descent.

Weekly hours of training: 42.

A funny thing that I notice on first sight is that, although the distance walked was 8.3% of that cycled, the vertical gain on foot was 94% of that on the bike. This arises from two factors: there wasn't TOO much vertical on the roads, and the walking/scrambling was really steep, especially on Mount Barney.

Health permitting, I will be spending alot more time in the Mount Barney area these holidays, it is absolutely spectacular and humbling, the solitude was something else.